PPG Automotive Refinish & Commercial Coatings
Green-Light Atlanta

Imagine you are taking a college course, and the professor assigns you to create a business plan for a new collision center in Atlanta, Ga. Would you recommend a “go” or “no go” on investing in this market?


That’s just the decision that was faced by Global MINI and the management of Sonic Automotive this past year. The result? A new collision center in Chamblee, Ga., called Global Collision MINI, and a resounding “full speed ahead” from the Sonic management team.

The decision to build this new collision center was made carefully. The Atlanta economy remains sluggish despite the fact that the city is home to a good many Fortune 500 companies: Coca-Cola, UPS, Home Depot and Delta Airlines. Housing values, closely associated with automotive retail sales, have suffered considerably in Atlanta, and unemployment rates remain among the highest in the nation. What’s more, competition for auto body repair services in the Atlanta market is fierce, with 10 other collision centers located within a 10-mile radius of the chosen location.

Yet Sonic, one of the largest automotive retailers in the United States, sees the upside of a market like Atlanta. One example: Atlanta is the envy of the nation when it comes to a particular demographic group called “the young and the restless.” Youthful (25-34 years old) and highly educated, this segment of the population is coveted among employers who are starting to face a shrinking work force. Their good incomes and their likelihood of settling down in the area make them ideal prospects for the “customer for life” mentality—and the lifeblood of successful automotive dealerships. The location fits with the Sonic investment principle of “think before we spend.”

In December 2011, Global Collision MINI officially opened a state-of-the-art new collision center that caters to the customers of the company’s nearby MINI, BMW, Volvo and Toyota dealerships.

Brian Palmer, general manager of Global BMW/MINI says, “The addition of this collision center will allow us to take care of our customer at the same level that we do in our other service departments.”

“We’re definitely the new kid on the block,” says Bill Joslin, who is fixed operations director at the new store. “We’re literally surrounded by dealerships,” acknowledges Bill about the challenging market conditions, “so we simply have to produce the best quality around.” The collision center has set a first-year goal of $3 million in sales.

Once the decision to build had been thoroughly vetted, the company put together plans for a new collision center where they had the space to do it right— contiguous to the MINI dealership. (Sonic owns all the real estate for its more than 100+ dealerships.) Plans were drawn up and refined by the experts on the Facility Design and Layout team of PPG’s MVP Business Solutions group.

Global Collision MINI then turned to longtime paint supplier, PPG, and local distributor, Single Source, Inc., to help set up a waterborne refinish system that would meet high customer expectations for quality, and help shop management achieve goals for efficiency and productivity. They chose the Aquabase® Plus system. “BMW has been using waterborne coatings for 30 years, and we use waterbased platforms by PPG at many of our other locations,” says Joslin. Other than the installation of some air circulating fans and the selection of appropriate spray guns, there were no special equipment needs associated with the waterborne system.

Will Messer, collision center director and chief imagination officer, said the decision to use Aquabase® Plus basecoat was a “no-brainer” for this location. “We’re essentially using the same technology that’s used for the OEM basecoat,” he says. “Plus it’s safer and creates fewer emissions.” They will also tout the paint finish’s environmentally progressive nature in point-of-sale and customer communications.

“This (Aquabase® Plus) is definitely a paint system that is in tune with today’s world and today’s collision center,” says Palmer. “Plus, PPG makes sure that our people are completely up-to-speed with it, so everything goes smoothly.”

“Going from zero to $3 million in sales in such a short span of time will be interesting, to say the least,” says Joslin.

“We will definitely be monitoring every aspect of our operation, from the time the customer pulls in to final delivery, with a goal of grabbing market share from the competition.” Market insights delivered by PPG will be helpful in fine tuning the business strategy, and Messer and Joslin plan to take advantage of PPG’s MVP Business Solutions programs as soon as their schedules permit it. The company also plans to implement PPG’s Quick Minor Damage Repair Program, which will enable customers to receive same-day repairs on dents and dings while their vehicle is in the shop for maintenance.

With the “go” versus “no-go” decision made, Global Collision MINI and the Sonic management team are now focused on what lies ahead. It’s a steady green light in Atlanta— there’s no stopping now!